Mr. Chemex: the eccentric inventor who reimagined the perfect cup of coffee


Dr. Schlumbohm and his coffee flask are interesting and all, but I’m at least equally impressed with Mr. Adler, who invented the Aeropress (as well as the Aerobie and an assortment of other things.) The Aeropress, for me at least, gets the right combo of nerdy sciencey-ness and delicious brew.

(Side note: Mr. Adler was also a friend of my late grandfather’s, and I met him once when I was still a kid and the Aerobie was still in late prototype phase…)

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As good a cup of coffee as Chemex and Aeropress makes they have one downfall, as soon as you pour your perfectly heated water over your perfectly ground and roasted beans, the water begins to cool down from its perfect temperature. I’ve seen some efforts made to slow down this cooling such as neoprene sleeves but nothing as effective as what is achieved using a vacuum pot such as Bodum makes. By leaving the Bodum vacuum pot on the burner while brewing, and you need to to achieve an adequate brewing time, the water remains at an optimum temperature for the entire process.

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Hey! I can see old BB threaded comments through the link! Cool! 2008!

Had and used a Chemex coffee maker for many years–love the classic wood handle tied on with leather thong and wood beads. You could keep it on a burner with the included wire stand to keep it hot. They made really great tasting coffee in a time of old-school percolators that recycled coffee thru spent grounds–ugh!

BTW–nice Roy Doty illo of the fan!


I had this man who worked in my lab. He’d set up a system using drip-feeds and spare Erlenmeyer flasks to produce a wonderful cup of coffee. But, as I told my brother-in-law, just about everything he did was derivative in some way of someone greater’s work; his coffee setup just aped Schlumblom’s.

I’m back with my old lab partner now, we still have the coffee setup, and things have never been better.


I have come to the conclusion that maintaining the perfect temperature matters only if you think it affects the final outcome of the taste. I roast and grind my own beans and use a small Chemex and even when it doesn’t turn out the best it is still better than anything else I have ever had.

The question is whether there is an “ideal” temperature. Everything I have read informs that there is no ideal temperature, no lower limit (brewing at room temperature for a long time works quite well) , only an upper limit above which you do not want to brew - 190F.

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Is it true that Older Chemex or Coffeemakers make better coffee, only because they been used and given abetter flavor? I know for Cuban coffee, using “El Cafetera” or Italian Coffee thingies, the older ones jsut brewed expresso so good. But I love “American” coffee as we call it, and was pursuing this avenue recently.

Stanford University has a design fair thing every year, with students and sometimes other people showing off things they’ve designed, and I’ve been to one or two of them. Adler was at one of them; IIRC correctly, he lives nearby, and he’s done extensive amounts of travel running the business of selling Aerobies and dog frisbees and things like that, and was tired of not being able to get a decent cup of coffee in a hotel, kind of like Cory. Since he has lots of expertise in designing things and manufacturing products out of plastic, he designed the Aeropress so he could dependably get coffee.

I think that was the same year Evernote was there. It’s an amazingly cool system, but I was concerned about privacy problems back then (they had a good “don’t be evil” philosophy, but they really have to keep all your data in accessible-to-them formats, because they do things like OCR your pictures and turn your voicemail into email or your texts into voicemail, so it’s not something encryption can easily fix.)

And there was a guy with a carbon-fiber guitar; United can’t break it without actually running it over with an airplane. Way out of my price range, but it sounded good. A friend of mine later got a carbon-fiber cello.

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I work at a pretty decent coffee shop in a city that loves its coffee. We stock a Chemex machine, just like every other hipster café in the city. Whilst a lot of the coffee snobs do tend to talk highly of the chemex design, I can’t help but notice that we sell maybe 3 pour-overs on a busy day, yet we’ll sell probably between 300-500 coffees from the espresso machine; of course sales volume doesn’t mean espresso is the superior method, but it does strike me odd that even the coffee snobs that praise the Chemex, still seem to order more coffee from espresso machine.

I’ve drank probably 10 Chemex’s over the last few years and even though I agree the results are usually clean and without bitterness, they’re also watery and somewhat flavourless. If I’m not in the mood for an espresso (or its variants) I’d much rather a good cold-drip which will at least share the intensity of flavour of a good espresso.

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I definitely respect the design but this isn’t the perfect cup for me. The actual method used is the same way campers and cowboys have been doing it for years - add hot water to grounds and let drain through a filter. Bunn makes a better tasting brew than Chemex IMO. The method I think tastes best is vacuum.

Re: Aeropress vs. Chemex, I still use both as they have different strengths.

I had thought I would myself never make better coffee than with the Aeropress, but what comes out of the Chemex using the pour-over technique (some great video how-tos on the net…) is definitely better coffee by most people’s definition. It is the only coffee I can reliably make that tastes like the good light/medium roast effete brew I get at boutique cafés in San Francisco Mission.

Best tip I received from watching instructional vids: run a couple cups heated water through your paper filter first, and discard! This removes subtle but real characteristic taste coloration coming from the paper!

I like the Chemex pre-folded discs as the doubled heavy weight paper (doubled side toward the spout) seems to make a difference but I recall reading that someone who tried a blind comparison found the filter was not a key factor (but rinsing it first, whatever it was, is!).

Favorite Chemex pour-over coffee detail: it’s got a very distinct characteristic red shade to it, very noticeable when it’s still shallow.

Least favorite aspect of Chemex (particularly vs. Aeropress): impossible to remove staining from the inside of the bowl. :stuck_out_tongue:

All this talk of the vacuum makers, however,will make me look further…

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